People are living longer and "aging in place" is an increasingly popular strategy adopted by seniors. The inevitability of an aging population in the United States presents all sorts of challenges for the communities in which they live. Communities must find ways to respond to the needs of seniors or they could face a serious social crisis.
Thankfully, there are communities that today serve seniors in appropriate ways. The two examples I offer here are smaller cities on opposite sides of the country. By so doing I intend to demonstrate that any community that cares about its senior population can take meaningful action.
Asheville, North Carolina
Nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains and with a vibrant food, beer and arts scene, Asheville is a small city (population around 95,000) that deservedly gets high marks as a world-class tourist destination. To some observers, Asheville may appear to be a young, happening place, but the city is also home to a sizable senior population -- 28 percent of Buncombe County (which includes Asheville and a few other towns) is age 60 or older. Local government, nonprofit organizations and educational institutions are well aware of this, and they work to provide seniors with services that much larger cities would envy.
For example, on the campus of the University of North Carolina Asheville (UNCA) is OLLI Asheville -- one of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes found at college campuses around the country. OLLI Asheville has its own building on campus, which serves as a gathering place for the College for Seniors, retirement seminars, lectures, presentations, meetings and social events. The Fall semester's 90 courses, taught by retired professionals, blend on-campus only, hybrid and online only offerings. OLLI Asheville has over 1,000 members who take classes and volunteer for OLLI and in the community.
Recently, Buncombe County and UNCA announced that they plan to collaborate on a $26 million Active Aging Center to be built on the campus but on county land. Buncombe County would own and operate the Center with the full cooperation of UNCA. According to county information provided to the Asheville Citizen-Times, a local newspaper, “(The Active Aging Center) will provide an integrated service delivery model, incorporating healthcare, childcare, adult day, retail, technology, community resources and other services for Buncombe County. This approach encourages greater community collaboration, connectivity and congregation of people and places.” According to the county, the Acting Aging Center will offer:
- Better navigation and access for aging adults and their caregivers that underpins community health initiatives.
- Improved utilization of financial and funding resources across aging services providers with both the reduction of duplication of services and subsequent resources.
- Creation of an innovative model that is ready for the future, that will be proactive, collaborative, and responsive to the needs of those that will be aging in our community.
- Incorporate a collective impact model and strategies to accomplish common goals for our aging community members across providers.
- Establishing a model of best practices in the delivery of aging services in Western North Carolina.
With about 123,000 residents, Berkeley, California isn't much bigger than Asheville, but it is near two large cities, Oakland and San Francisco. About 16 percent of the population is age 65 or older. Berkeley also boasts an active OLLI, located at the University of California Berkeley. OLLI at UC Berkeley is a learning community of 2,500 members who participate in on-campus and online courses, speaker events, intergenerational dialogues, research opportunities, Town Halls, meetups, and more.
The Berkeley community offers a range of services to seniors through two Senior Centers, one in North Berkeley and one in South Berkeley. Senior Services Assistants at each center help seniors gain access to needed services that include transportation, food, medical resources, health insurance and financial benefits advocacy resources, legal assistance resources, affordable housing listings, utilities and energy assistance resources, home care assistance referrals and more.
It is worth noting that California is one of just five states to have a "master plan for aging." The state projects that one-quarter of its population will be 60 or over by 2030. According to the state, "This is not a plan simply for today’s older adults. Instead, it is a blueprint for aging across the lifespan. The Master Plan for Aging calls on all California communities to build a California for All Ages & Abilities: for older Californians currently living through the many different stages of the second half of life; for younger generations who can expect to live longer lives than their elders; for communities of all ages – family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and caregivers – surrounding older adults and people with disabilities."
Asheville and Berkeley are only two examples of communities that recognize the importance of serving their senior population. Wherever you live, as you age, be sure to seek out all of the local services available to seniors in your community provided by government, nonprofit organizations and educational institutions. There may be a lot of support available that you didn't know about.